Describing Teachers


Micro-teaching is a course that will work as a review of past materials seen during the course, we are going to start with week number 1, in which the topics will be from Classroom Management and Methods. Enjoy.



Classroom Management.

Describing Teachers.

The Practice of English Language Teaching

Jeremy Harmer, Third Edition.

Pearson Education Limited

ISBN 0582403855


     Teachers use many metaphors to describe what they do. Sometimes they say they are like actors because ‘we are always on stage’. Others think they are like orchestral conductors ‘because I direct conversations and set the pace and tone’. Yet others feel like gardeners, ‘because we plant the seeds and then watch them grow’. The range of images that teachers use about themselves indicates the range of views that they have about their profession.

     Dictionaries also give a variety of messages about teaching. According to the Canbridge International Dictionary of English, ‘teaching means’ to give knowledge or to instruct or train (someone)’, whereas the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English suggests that it means to ‘show somebody how to do something’ or to ‘change somebody’s ideas’.

     It is because views are somewhat mixed as to what teachers are, and because different functions are ascribed to teaching, that we need to examine the teacher’s role not only in education generally, but in the classroom itself.


     Many trainers are fond of quoting from a work called The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. ‘If (the teacher) is indeed wise, he does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind’ (Gibran 1991:76).  Such humanist sentiments expose a dilemma in the minds of many trainers and trainees. Is teaching about the ‘transmission’ of knowledge from teacher to student, or is it about creating conditions in which, somehow, students learn for themselves? To put it another way, if you were to walk into a classroom, where would you expect to see the teacher – standing at the front controlling affairs, or moving around the classroom quietly helping the students only when needed?

     In recent years, under the influence of humanistic and communicative theories, great emphasis has been placed on ‘learner-centered’ teaching, which is teaching which makes the learners’ needs and experience central to educational process. In this framework, it is students’ needs which should be at the heart of a language course. The measure of a good lesson is the student activity taking place, not the performance of the teacher.

     The physical manifestation of this trend is to be found in classrooms where learners are given tasks to work on, and where, in the process of performing these tasks (with the teacher’s help), real learning takes place.

     In these situations the teacher is no longer the giver of knowledge, the controller, and the authority, but rather a facilitator and a resource for the students to draw on. One writer has suggested that teachers in such learner-centered classrooms need special qualities including maturity, intuition, educational skills (to develop students’ awareness of language and learning), an openness to student input, and a greater tolerance to uncertainty. These qualities are in marked contrast to more traditional teacher behavior (Tudor 1993). Yet they are precisely the characteristics most people would expect of any teacher, traditional or modern, who has their learners’ best interest at heart.

     Not all methodologists find it easy to accept learner-centeredness uncritically, however. Robert O’Neill, an influential materials writer and trainer, wrote an article whose title clearly expressed his disquiet since he called it “The plausible myth of learner-centeredness” (O’Neill 1991). He worried that letting students do the learning on their own with the teachers only interviewing when and if needed, might amount to a form of neglect. It could be tantamount to an abdication by the teacher of the knowledge-giving role.

     What is wrong with old-fashioned ‘teacher-fronting’ he wondered. It seems to work; it has always worked, and many students feel more comfortable with it.


     Within the classroom our role may change from one activity to another or from one stage of an activity to another. If we are fluent at making these changes our effectiveness as teachers is greatly enhanced.

     When teachers act as controllers they are in charge of the class and of the activity taking place in a way is substantially different from a situation where students are working on their own in groups. Controllers take the roll, tell students things, organize drills, read aloud, and in various other ways exemplify the qualities of a teacher-fronted classroom.

     One of the most important roles that teachers have to perform is that of organizing students to do various activities. This often involves giving the students information, telling them how they are going to do the activity, putting them into pairs or groups, and finally closing things down when it is time to stop.

     One of the things that students expect from their teachers is an indication of whether or not they are getting their English right. This is where we have to act as an assessor, offering feedback and correction and grading students in various ways.

     Sometimes, when students are involved in a role-play activity, for example, they lose the thread of what is going on, or they are ‘lost of words’ (i.e. they may still have the thread but be unable to proceed productively for lack of vocabulary). They may not be quite sure how to proceed. What should teachers do in these circumstances? Hold back and let them work things out for themselves or, instead, ‘nudge’ them forward in a discreet and supportive way? If we opt for the latter, we are adopting some kind of a ‘prompting’ role.

     The traditional picture of teachers during students discussions, role-play, or group-decision making activities, is of people who ‘stand back’ from the activity, letting the learners get on with it and only interviewing later to offer feedback and/or correct mistakes. However, there are also times when we might want to join in an activity not as a teacher, but also as a participant in our own right. There are good reasons why we might want to take part in a discussion.

     In some activities it is inappropriate for us to take on any of the roles we have suggested so far. Suppose that the students are involved in a piece of group writing, or that they are involved in preparation for a presentation they are to make to the class. In such situations having the teacher take part, or try to control them, or even turn up to prompt them might be entirely unwelcome. However, the students may still have need of their teacher as a resource. Students might ask how to say or write something or what a word or phrase means. They might want to know information in the middle of an activity about that activity or they might want information about where to look for something, a book or a website for example. This is where we can be one of the most important resources they have.

     When students are working on longer projects, such as pieces of writing or preparations for a talk or a debate, we can act as a tutor, working with individuals or small groups, pointing them in directions they have not thought of talking. In such situations we are combining the roles of prompter and resource, acting as a tutor.

     We will want to observe what students do (especially in oral communicative activities) so that we can give them useful group and individual feedback. When observing students we should be careful not to be intrusive by hanging on their every word, by getting too close to them, or by officiously writing things down all the time. Above all we should avoid drawing attention to ourselves since to do so may well distract them from the task they are involved in. Teachers do not only observe students in order to give feedback. They also watch in order to judge the success of the different materials and activities that they take into lessons so that they can, if necessary, make changes in the future. Indeed, one area of teacher development involves just such observation, built into an action research cycle where we pose questions about what we do in the classroom and use observation to answer such questions.

Which role?

     The role that we take on is independent on what it is we wish the students to achieve. Where some activities are difficult to organize without the teacher acting as controller, others have no chance of success unless we take a less domineering role. There are times when we will need to act as a prompter where, on other occasions, it would be more appropriate to act as a resource.

     What we can say, with certainty, is that we need to be able to switch between the various roles we have described here, judging when it is appropriate to use one or other of them. And then, when we have made that decision, however consciously or subconsciously it is done, we need to be aware of how we carry out that role and how we perform.



SEE ALL Add a note
Add your Comment

Advanced Course Search Widget

Recent Posts

Design © Instituto Cultural  All rights reserved.